YouTube to livestream US presidential debates

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America’s political kudos might not be at its highest point right now, but the world’s eyes will still be on it in the run up to its presidential elections.

Keeping an eye on the developments in the run up to November just got a little easier, courtesy of YouTube. The video-sharing service will be livestreaming four televised debates between US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Once the debates are over, YouTube has also promised to keep full-length recordings of the debates as well as highlight clips on its YouTube Elections Hub.

In addition to the live broadcast of the debates, YouTube will also have commentary and analysis from its eight YouTube Election Hub partners — ABC News, Al Jazeera English, BuzzFeed, Larry King, New York Times, Phil DeFranco, Univision and the Wall Street Journal — each of whom will be providing their own unique live and on-demand coverage of the four debates before, during and after.

This is the first time that the debates will be widely available to people who don’t ordinarily have access to US television stations. But it also means that US citizens who have eschewed mainstream TV in favour of the internet will have access to the debates on a medium they are far more comfortable with.

In order to understand why that’s so important you have to go back to first publicly televised US presidential debate: between John F Kennedy and Robert Nixon.

Those listening on the radio thought Nixon had edged the debate, while those watching on TV — able to see Nixon looking pale and sweaty (he had only recently left hospital) — called victory for Kennedy. In the end they were right.

As Alan Schroeder, a media historian and associate professor at Northeastern University, told Time in 2010: “It’s one of those unusual points on the timeline of history where you can say things changed very dramatically — in this case, in a single night”.

TV fundamentally changed US politics in 1960, just as social media did in 2008. YouTube might well do the same this year and both candidates will have to be aware that anyone can replay, review and analyse their performances as often as they want.

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